Implications of Animal Consumption

The consumption of animal products is globally pervasive.

Whether a cultural cornerstone, a religious requirement, or simply because people like the taste of them, animal products are consumed in disturbingly high amounts worldwide. While the consumption of animal products is a widespread practice, it is important to internalize the stresses being placed on the environment by the animal agriculture industry.

Simply put, animal product consumption is taxing on the environment. Negative implications include large water footprints, significant greenhouse gas emissions, and various other agricultural requirements. To elaborate, in a study of meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, researchers found the greenhouse gas emissions of individuals adhering to a plant-based diet to be approximately three times less than those of individuals with a ‘high-meat diet’. In this study, the researchers defined a ‘high-meat diet’ as consumption of a minimum of 100 grams of meat per day. In other words, a ‘high-meat diet’ individual that eats a three ounce portion of meat is 85 grams of the way there. Or, another way of thinking about it, a three ounce portion of meat is roughly the same size as a deck of cards. So, as a threshold, this is fairly easy to surpass. Additionally, animal products account for roughly ⅓ of the water footprint of all agriculture worldwide. This is further magnified by the finding that the water footprint per calorie of beef is about 20 times larger than that for cereal and other starchy root vegetables. This analysis using ratios should be more than just thought-provoking for our readers — it’s an excessive and, generally, wasteful practice.

In the European Union, researchers modeled the environmental implications of a transition towards a more plant-based diet. They found that doing so would reduce nitrogen gas emissions by about 40% and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 25 and 40%. While this study simply used theoretical models, their is unequivocal certainty that the reduction in our society’s consumption of animal products would have profoundly positive effects on the environment.

Every action, every choice we make, is attached to an environmental consequence — including eating! Therefore, we should all strive to be aware of the foods we are putting into our body and know that they will not only have an effect on our health, but an effect on the health of our planet. By choosing which foods to consume, we are also choosing to either endorse foods that support the sustainability of the environment or foods that harm the environment. When we purchase more foods that harm the environment, we are sending the signal that we want those foods to be produced in higher quantities and that we support the industries that support those foods. To paraphrase a common saying, we are putting our money where our mouths are when we eat.

Which industries do you want to support? Those that strive for environmental sustainability or those that drain our limited resources and harm our planet?